Friday, March 07, 2014

Pak Chong, Thailand

Khao Yai National Park

When I arrived in Pak Chong, I was headed for the woods. Even though I only have a mosquito net to camp in. These are the relics of our ancestry as ultralight hikers—my GoLite backpack, which still reeks of thru-hiker stink, a sleeping pad as a frame, an alcohol stove stuffed into an aluminum pan. After the Appalachian Trail, we always know we can camp. Always walk.

Sometimes when the tuk-tuk drivers yell at me: you can't walk! It's too far!

I feel like saying: I walked 3000 miles! It's not too far!

That's something I'm capable of saying in Thai, although I'd have to convert to kilometers. So we're headed to Khao Yai National Park, home of nature trails and wild elephants. It's also another revisiting of a place from my childhood, the park where we used to come for holiday, renting a cabin with my best friend's family for a week during Christmas and hiking the “lambak” (difficult—doesn't it just sound difficult? I though that word was an English one for years) trails to waterfalls. We have pictures from the park, of us stripped of our shoes, wading in fresh-water streams (something my travel doctor told me never, never to do before I left). In one, I've laid out my socks to dry and they are completely covered in butterflies, swarming to drink up the moisture.

As we move farther north in Thailand I'm beginning to think my previous complaints about the busyness of the tourist trail are ridiculous. We bought our train ticket directly from Ayutthaya to Pak Chong, and we (as the last time) were the only farangs on the train. All of the rest of the Ayutthaya folk crossed the train tracks, in their tank tops, with giant suitcases, and caught the train back to Bangkok. We went east instead, and when we arrived in Pak Chong, there were only two other farangs on the platform.

I've been constantly amused at how tourists seem to hate each other. In the south, travelers wouldn't even meet each others' eyes. Thais were more friendly than fellow westerners, all of whom were in denial about other westerners being in their remote paradise. Here, though, as we're once again few, we're on the same side. A French couple at the station explained to us how to catch the sohngtaeou to the National Park, where the cheap hotel in town was, how much things costs.

It's ridiculous how far off the beaten track we are without even trying. Khao Yai National Park is number seven on Lonely Planet's list of Thailand's top attractions. And I feel like we're virtually alone, Thailand as it was fifteen years ago. Tonight we are staying at one of the Thai hotels I love so much, hanging out with salesman and truck drivers from Bangkok on the road.

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